I got to paint from a different angle yesterday. Here's the forest road, the new gateway by Tylur French, and a view across the treetops.
My last day was more of an urban day than a park day. A bit of Christmas and bookstore shopping in Fairhaven and Bellingham, plus lunch in a tea shop. My tiered "afternoon tea" lunch, with finger sandwitches, fruit, and creme caramel, made me slightly ridiculously happy. The peach apricot tea was delightful as well.
There was a stunning sky color on the way in, and I had done one very quick sketch from the passenger seat of the car as we sped along. A good memory exercise. And a looseness one. I also sketched the tea cups before lunch arrived.
We came home by way of the coast road and stopped for me to sketch. I could definitely spend more time drawing this coast line. The simple shapes remind me a bit of the Mississippi river series of paintings I did some years ago. This trip made me want to paint water again, and I was glad for the practice doing that in watercolors. That's been hard for me.
At the Mouth of the Skagit
The sun was dropping fast
by the time we reached
the mouth of the Skagit,
and a bitter wind from the strait
was hard into our faces.
You grabbed your watercolors
and braced to capture dusk
glowing over the Salish Sea.
I took my camera and found
a small song sparrow
puffed up against the bitter cold.
We were two small people
in fading light,
caught up in something larger,
racing to stop time
in the failing light of winter.
I did a watercolor study for this oil on paper piece several weeks ago, but I hadn't had time to get to the actual painting what with Christmas shows, commissions, and the trip to Washington. It feels great to paint again. I drew this out two nights ago and started painting yesterday morning. It's close to done. I'll look at it again with fresh eyes in the morning.
This is the fourth in my series of "woman alone in a large world" series of paintings. The series started in Paris with me sitting on a couch, dwarfed by the enormous two story window behind me filled with night sky and stars. I've been examining my life lately, thinking about direction and how to live to be happy and make the most of my time. Self examination tends toward the literal for me. It is almost always accompanied by self portraits.
I've intended these to be something of a valentine for others also living singly. This is perhaps the most alone feeling, without dog or stars or banjo, but I included one of my favorite paintings I've done, one that was in the Dixon show last year, to be a window out into the wider world and also to have my abiding vocation present in the piece. Every time I do one of these, I hear from someone who is touched and sees him or herself in this place as well, so it's a kind of "solidarity" moment for me to reach out to others. Society gives us romantic couples as the only possible, successful way to live, and that's a lovely thing. But I have also found great freedom and creativity in living alone, as well as periodic lonely days, and I love the independence to pursue my art full tilt. I think it's good to offer different visions of acceptable ways to live, even if there is also great joy in finding a partner. Alice Steinbach (Without Reservations), who wrote a middle aged version of Eat, Pray, Love ten years before Gilbert's book came out, said that given demographics, all women should learn to live alone. That is so very true. My grandmother married at 30, which was quite old for her era, was happily married for 50+ years, and still had another 20 years on her own after my grandfather died, because she lived to 104.
Here are a couple of the earlier pieces in the series. I think my spring show at WKNO will be self portraits, interpreted somewhat loosely. They seem to be where my head is at the moment.
The next day in Washington was foggy, so instead of going for mountain views, we went for trees. Rockport State Park is a magical place, a forest of towering evergreens and maples covered with moss and ferns. It felt like I had walked into Tolkein. I was sure ents were lurking just out of sight. It was dripping rain, which made watercolor quite challenging, but I kept having to try. I am dreaming of going back with enough time and dry weather to at least attempt to do this place justice. All I have at the moment are the palest shadows of that beauty.
Because of the rain I was having to work very fast. I badly miscalculated below on the tree in the foreground, both its placement and its execution. But the ones in the background give you some idea of the layers of trees disappearing into the fog that day.
The next day in Washington we went to the North Cascades National Park. It was damn cold at that elevation for this southern Delta girl, so there wasn't a lot of sketching. I tried. I did this one halfway up at about 27 degrees, and the water froze on the paper as I was doing the sky, making ice crystal patterns in the right side of the image. Which is totally cool. I had fingerless gloves, and this one worked great. I liked the effect. But once we got higher, I discovered that middle 20's is the outer limits for being able to work in watercolor. I tried up there in the teens, and it froze too quickly. I ended up with a total mess. This was all new information for me and helpful to know. It was 12 degrees at the highest point we got to. Stunning views, but I will have to be there in warmer weather if painting is going to happen. Fortunately the borrowed gear kept me warm enough to truly enjoy the beauty there.
Here are a few of the photos I took since I couldn't paint.
Just for contrast, here are a few of Jude Dippold's. You can see more of his work on his blog.
Mount Baker with the sunset colors bouncing off of it was amazing. I tried my hand at it as well, since that was back down into the (somewhat) warmer temperatures.
Christmas for several years now has marked the moment when I could draw a line between show and commission season and the beginning of having time to make art for myself again. That is deeply true this year, so I celebrated with a quick self portrait in my Christmas dress. I found this 1940's velvet dress (that was the decade when they most made clothes to suit my figure) in an antique shop in Washington during my recent trip. It fits like a glove, and I was delighted. I feel like I'm starting a new chapter at the moment, and a new dress is a lovely way to mark that. I'm also looking forward to doing some more self portraits now that I have time, perhaps for my spring show if things go well.
I hope all of you are having a marvelous holiday season. Thank you for reading along here and supporting my work. No independent artist could ever make it without a whole host of supporters, and I have a beautiful community around me. That is always such a gift, at Christmas and all through the year.
My full second day started in the tire store getting a tire fixed. They have nicer views there from the tire store than in Memphis. We went on to the coast from there. It was stunning. It looked like the California impressionist paintings I've seen with rocky outcroppings and pine trees seen from directly above.
It was cold out painting after a while, and I probably was worn out and should have stopped before that last little one, but I was so entranced by the scenery I couldn't stop myself.
We stopped for the sunset on the way back inland. Mount Baker, white with snow, turned pink in the evening light.
The Tennessee Shakespeare Company is putting on Much Ado About Nothing this week, which is one of my favorite plays, and it is being done by a stellar cast. I got excited and went out to sketch at a couple of the rehearsals (my dad is really involved in the company as his retirement project, so they made me nicely welcome). These are largely quick sketches because actors move around a lot more than the musicians I usually draw. But I had such fun doing it. And everyone was so kind about my being there. I started in pencil and switched over quickly to fountain pen.
During the Saturday night performance I mostly sat back and just drank it in, but I did do a couple of pages of sketches, just because it's what I tend to do. I hope anyone in Memphis will go see this. They did a brilliant job of making this play fresh and all their own. I loved it.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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